April's Angolan Read is...

Before now, I knew very little about Angola. I’d only known of its wars, its vast petroleum exports, & of the Portuguese influence.

I didn’t know about its beauty—that it’s a hidden gem just starting to be discovered by travelers. If you’re curious about the level of travel safety in Angola, you may be as shocked as I was to find out that as of today the US Dept. of State lists it only as a level 1 travel advisory. That’s “Exercise normal precautions. Some areas have increased risk.” This is on a scale where 0 is the lowest threat level (e.g., the US & Canada) & 4 is the highest level (e.g., North Korea). To put Angola’s low-level 1 rating into perspective, areas I personally consider safe—the UK, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Germany, & France—are all listed at a higher threat level (level 2 which is “Exercise increased precautions”)!

Because Angola is considered a safe country, I became very curious what a trip there could look like & found this alluring 6-minute video from The Road Chose Me that I just had to share.

Between the gorgeous vistas from the video above & the fact that there’s even some scuba diving in Angola, I’ve now added Angola to my list of countries to visit soon.


Winner of the Dublin International Literary Award & the English Pen Award, shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, & shortlisted for the 3% Best Translated Book Award

“The story challenges what we imagine to be the clearly drawn lines between 'hero' and 'villain' and forces a reconsideration of history and our fictions. It does what the best of literature ought to do: keep us glued to our seats, unable to break away.“ - Words Without Borders

“On the eve of Angolan independence, Ludo bricks herself into her apartment, where she will remain for the next thirty years. She lives off vegetables and pigeons, burns her furniture and books to stay alive and keeps herself busy by writing her story on the walls of her home.

As the country goes through various political upheavals from colony to socialist republic to civil war to peace and capitalism, the world outside seeps into Ludo's life through snippets on the radio, voices from next door, glimpses of someone peeing on a balcony, or a man fleeing his pursuers. A General Theory of Oblivion is a perfectly crafted, wild patchwork of a novel, playing on a love of storytelling and fable.”

(A special thank you to book club member, Leslie Tchaikovsky for the suggestion.)

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Happy reading!

Your Russian Blind Date with a Book is...  was the fabulous inspiration for our blind date game this month. was the fabulous inspiration for our blind date game this month.

As I noted in a previous post, setting up the blind date methodology was a lot of work, but it looks like the vast majority of you really enjoyed the surprise element of it all. We had a wide variety of positive comments saying things like “Fun! Like Tinder dating with reading....great work.” & “I loved this experience!”

However, there were a small number of people who weren’t as happy preferring to only vote for books at their library (which we totally understand) as well as folks who wanted more descriptions or desired to know each book genre.

However, this was the best voting turnout we’ve ever had so it’s clear most agree it never hurts to mix things up!

Just a few background notes before we get down into the results:

  • We purposely didn’t include the genre because with only 6 books, people would then only vote for their preferred genre which defeats the purpose of our blind date with a book. (It’s different when libraries do this as they’ll have a whole bookcase of 30, 50, or more books with multiples of the same genre.)

  • Usually, Mia & I try to include a variety of genres for our picks to balance out the member suggestions, but this time, Mia & I played along in the blind date where we could so just like you, we sent in suggestions without knowing anyone else’s.

  • We decided not to include my vote because we felt it wasn’t fair that I knew all the books when no one else did. (Mia only knew the 2 books she suggested & Ivor knew none of the books.)

  • We got 5 book suggestions this month & randomly chose 2. If you want to see that list of books or how they were randomly chosen, here’s the screencast.

Reminder: No one aside from the book club management team is ever required to read the monthly book or participate in the discussions. We want reading to be fun! So if the book voted in is one you don’t like, no worries. Feel free to read one of the other books or just join us for the April read instead.

And now without further ado, here are the results of the vote with the books listed in order from the least want to read to the most along with their original descriptive words/phrases.

Voting Results

Described in our March Blind Date with a Book as:
Black humor
Writing vignettes

Final voting score: 38

The House of the Dead

“In January 1850, Dostoyevsky was sent to a remote Siberian prison camp for his part in a political conspiracy. The four years he spent there, startlingly re-created in The House of the Dead, were the most agonizing of his life. In this fictionalized account, he recounts his soul-destroying incarceration through the cool, detached tones of his narrator, Aleksandr Petrovich Goryanchikov: the daily battle for survival, the wooden plank beds, the cabbage soup swimming with cockroaches, his strange ‘family’ of boastful, ugly, cruel convicts. Yet The House of the Dead is far more than a work of documentary realism: it is also a powerful novel of redemption, describing one man’s spiritual and moral death and the miracle of his gradual reawakening.”

Note: This Penguin Classics translation by David McDuff is the one we recommend. Other translations are often considered poor (e.g., where “the house of the dead” was translated as “the dead house”…how can a house be dead?) or use overhyped translators who offer stilted writing as in the case of the co-translation by Richard Pevear/Larissa Volokhonskyan who write of an “alive dead house” instead of “a house of the living dead”). Only one note to be aware of with the Penguin Classic translation—read the introduction after the novel because it may contain spoilers as most Penguin Classic intros do.

(A special thank you to book club member, Sheena M. for the suggestion.)

Genres: political, historical fiction

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Described in our March Blind Date with a Book as:
Stream of consciousness writing
Strong imagery
Thought provoking

Final voting score: 52


The inspiration for George Orwell’s 1984.

”Yevgeny Zamyatin's We is set in an urban glass city called OneState, regulated by spies and secret police. Citizens of the tyrannical OneState wear identical clothing and are distinguished only by the number assigned to them at birth. The story follows a man called D-503, who dangerously begins to veer from the 'norms' of society after meeting I-330, a woman who defies the rules. D-503 soon finds himself caught up in a secret plan to destroy OneState and liberate the city.

The failed utopia of We has been compared to the works of H.G. Wells, George Orwell, and Aldous Huxley. It was the first novel banned by the Soviets in 1921, and was finally published in its home country over a half-century later.”

Note: This translation by Mirra Ginsburg is the one we recommend. A good second choice would be the translation from Clarence Brown. Other translations are considered poor or awkward.

Genre: science fiction

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Described in our March Blind Date with a Book as:
Dark, absurdist humor

Final voting score: 55

“One of The Telegraph's Best Fiction Books 2011

Moscow, 2028. A cold, snowy morning.

Andrei Danilovich Komiaga is fast asleep. A scream, a moan, and a death rattle slowly pull him out of his drunken stupor—but wait, that's just his ring tone. And so begins another day in the life of an oprichnik, one of the czar's most trusted courtiers—and one of the country's most feared men.

Welcome to the new New Russia, where futuristic technology and the draconian codes of Ivan the Terrible are in perfect synergy. Corporal punishment is back, as is a divine monarch, but these days everyone gets information from high-tech news bubbles, and the elite get high on hallucinogenic, genetically modified fish.

Over the course of one day, Andrei Komiaga will bear witness to—and participate in—brutal executions; extravagant parties; meetings with ballerinas, soothsayers, and even the czarina. He will rape and pillage, and he will be moved to tears by the sweetly sung songs of his homeland. He will consume an arsenal of drugs and denounce threats to his great nation's morals. And he will fall in love—perhaps even with a number of his colleagues.

Vladimir Sorokin, the man described by Keith Gessen (in The New York Review of Books) as "[the] only real prose writer, and resident genius" of late-Soviet fiction, has imagined a near future both too disturbing to contemplate and too realistic to dismiss. But like all of his best work, Sorokin's new novel explodes with invention and dark humor. A startling, relentless portrait of a troubled and troubling empire, Day of the Oprichnik is at once a richly imagined vision of the future and a razor-sharp diagnosis of a country in crisis.”

(A special thank you to book club member, Andi McCraine for the suggestion.)

Genres: political, science fiction, satire

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Described in our March Blind Date with a Book as:
Entertains as it provokes
Confusing at first, but addictive

Final voting score: 61

Hard to be a God

“An enjoyable, exciting, and gratifying novel.”  - The NY Times

“A thoroughly good book . . . robust, imaginative, satisfying.”  - Ursula K. Le Guin

“Don Rumata has been sent from Earth to the medieval kingdom of Arkanar with instructions to observe and to save what he can. Masquerading as an arrogant nobleman, a dueler, and a brawler, he is never defeated, but yet he can never kill. With his doubt and compassion, and his deep love for a local girl named Kira, Rumata wants to save the kingdom from the machinations of Don Reba, the first minister to the king. But given his orders, what role can he play? This long overdue translation will reintroduce one of the most profound Soviet-era novels to an eager audience. ”

Note: This translation by Olena Bormashenko is the one we recommend. Other versions are English translations of a bad German translation.

Genres: science fiction, fantasy

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Described in our March Blind Date with a Book as:
Weighty, but hopeful
Informal writing

Final voting score: 66

 One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

The novel that won Alexander Solzhenitsyn the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature "for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature."

"First published in the Soviet journal Novy Mir in 1962, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich stands as a classic of contemporary literature. The story of labor-camp inmate Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, it graphically describes his struggle to maintain his dignity in the face of communist oppression. An unforgettable portrait of the entire world of Stalin's forced work camps, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is one of the most extraordinary literary documents to have emerged from the Soviet Union and confirms Solzhenitsyn's stature as 'a literary genius whose talent matches that of Dosotevsky, Turgenev, Tolstoy'.”

Note: This translation by Harry T. Willetts is the one we recommend. This is the original, unexpurgated novel brilliantly translated by someone who worked closely with Solzhenitsyn to fully capture the power and beauty of the original Russian. This is the only English translation authorized by the Russian author."

(This book is actually a favorite of both Beth & Mia…the only book in the club’s current reading list across all countries & genres that they both agree is outstanding!)

Genre: historical fiction

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Described in our March Blind Date with a Book as:
Fast paced

Final voting score: 79 which makes it our read for March!

Night Watch

"Night Watch is an epic of extraordinary power." - Quentin Tarantino

“Brace yourself for [an adult version of] Harry Potter in Gorky Park. . . . The novel contains some captivating scenes and all kinds of marvelous, inventive detail.” -The Washington Post Book World

“An international bestseller [as] potent as a shot of vodka. . . . [A] compelling urban fantasy." -Publishers Weekly

“They are the ‘Others,’ an ancient race of supernatural beings—magicians, shape-shifters, vampires, and healers—who live among us. Human born, they must choose a side to swear allegiance to—the Dark or the Light—when they come of age.

For a millennium, these opponents have coexisted in an uneasy peace, enforced by defenders like the Night Watch, forces of the Light who guard against the Dark. But prophecy decrees that one supreme ‘Other’ will arise to spark a cataclysmic war.

Anton Gorodetsky, an untested mid-level Light magician with the Night Watch, discovers a cursed young woman—an Other of tremendous potential unallied with either side—who can shift the balance of power. With the battle lines between Light and Dark drawn, the magician must move carefully, for one wrong step could mean the beginning of annihilation.”

Genre: fantasy

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Happy reading!

February's Turkish Read is...

One of the famed balloons in Cappadocia, Turkey's very own fairy-tale kingdom

I’m shocked by the vote. For my 2 suggestions, I often include books which I think members would prefer while also trying to offer a variety of genres. I had doubts about both of my suggestions because I honestly didn’t think members would be as drawn to them as I was. In the end, I decided to include them because the genres were so different from the others that I thought they would offer a good balance. To my surprise, both of those suggestions were your top 2 picks! It’s a lesson learned for me to not anticipate what all of you prefer. But before we get to the results of the vote, I’d like to share a discovery.

Did you know that Turkey has a thriving film industry poised to match the esteemed status of Hollywood? I had no idea, but the films I found below make it clear why.

A Drama Inspired by Sofia Coppola's Virgin Suicides

“A very honest & disturbing look at the role of women in rural Turkey. Orphan girls are seen playing on the beach with a group of boys & must face the punishment of a conservative society.” View on Amazon (US) | (UK)

A Magical & Remarkable Documentary

“Hundreds of thousands of cats roam Istanbul. For millennia, they've become an essential part of the communities that make the city so rich. This film follows 7 such cats for an intimate look at the daily routine of Istanbul & its unique beauty.”
View on Amazon (US) | (UK)

A Police Procedural unlike any other

“A beautifully-photographed crime drama about police and prosecutors driving through the Anatolian countryside to look for a corpse, the serpentine roads & rolling hills lit only by the headlights of their cars.” View on Amazon (US) | (UK)


“The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency meets Pedro Almodovar in this outrageous new series featuring an ultraglamorous sleuth

Bestsellers in Mehmet Murat Somer's home country of Turkey and set to take the world by storm, the arrival of the Hop-Çiki-Yaya (aka Turkish Delight) mysteries is cause for excitement (and lip gloss!) here in the United States.

A male computer technician by day and a cross-dressing hostess of Istanbul's most notorious nightclub by night, the unnamed heroine of The Kiss Murder is the most charming and hilarious sleuth to debut in recent memory. When Buse, one of the ‘girls’ at her club fears someone is after private letters from a former lover, she comes to her boss for help. The next day, Buse is dead and our girl must find the murderers before they find her. Fortunately, she is well armed with beauty, wit, the wardrobe of Audrey Hepburn, and expert Thai kickboxing skills.”

Featuring an irreverent & saucy drag queen, this highly entertaining & occasionally over-the-top story is the perfect read if you’re looking for something light, fun, and a little different as Charlaine Harris, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, & the Guardian all rave. (Also, it’s interesting to read about a feisty gay sub-culture in a traditionally conservative Muslim country.)”

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January's Germany Read

The Residenz in Munich is the former royal palace of the Wittelsbach monarchs of Bavaria

I’m happy to say that most members seemed to love the new methodology we’re using to determine which book to read. We also had some suggestions on how we could further improve the method & we’re taking these under serious consideration.

The winning book this month just edged out the 2nd book as you’ll see below. All the books looked great, but I’m excited about the winner for a few reasons. This book happens to be one of Ivor’s first suggestions (good choice, Ivor!), the book club hasn’t read something similar, & the author’s background is very interesting.

Not only has the author’s books been translated into more than 35 languages, but they’ve sold millions of copies worldwide making the author "an internationally celebrated star of German literature" according to Focus Magazine. The author also has a very unique perspective as:

  • The child of a businessman

  • The grandchild of the head of the Hitler Youth who was also the wartime governor of Vienna & a war criminal sentenced to 20 years for crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg war trials

  • The great-grandchild of Hitler’s official photographer

  • A descendant of a signatory of the American Declaration of Independence

  • An attorney (the author is actually one of Germany’s most prominent criminal defense lawyers)

Note: The author does not sympathize with the Nazis. I’m sure you’re curious, but I’d urge you not to read any articles about this book or this author in advance because there are TONS of spoilers out there. However, I did find a short essay by the author about the Nazi grandfather which contains no spoilers & gives some perspective.

So which book are we reading next?

“The internationally bestselling courtroom drama centering on a young German lawyer and a case involving World War II.

A bestseller in Germany since its 2011 release—with rights sold in seventeen countries—The Collini Case combines the classic courtroom procedural with modern European history in a legal thriller worthy of John Grisham and Scott Turow.

Fabrizio Collini is recently retired. He’s a quiet, unassuming man with no indications that he’s capable of hurting anyone. And yet he brutally murders a prominent industrialist in one of Berlin’s most exclusive hotels.

Collini ends up in the charge of Caspar Leinen, a rookie defense lawyer eager to launch his career with a not-guilty verdict. Complications soon arise when Collini admits to the murder but refuses to give his motive, much less speak to anyone. As Leinen searches for clues he discovers a personal connection to the victim and unearths a terrible truth at the heart of Germany’s legal system that stretches back to World War II. But how much is he willing to sacrifice to expose the truth?”

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Happy reading!

November's Croatian Book

Thanks to all who voted! Each vote really counts as it was the votes cast on the last day of voting which pushed the chosen book over the top.

But before we get to the results, here are our favorite comments from members about the selection of Croatian books:

  • Love this. I bought two of them.
  • This is a wonderful selection! It was difficult for me to pick the ranks!
  • Thanks for the work in putting this list together.  :)
  • Love the variety.
  • Nice mix of choices.

So Which Book Will We Be Reading in November?

Officially, we'll begin reading the book below on Nov. 1st so you have time to get it in advance. You'll have till the end of November to finish the book before we begin the discussion.

"Dada’s life is at a standstill in Zagreb—she’s sleeping with a married man, working a dead-end job, and even the parties have started to feel exhausting. So when her sister calls her back home to help with their aging mother, she doesn’t hesitate to leave the city behind. But she arrives to find her mother hoarding pills, her sister chain-smoking, her long-dead father’s shoes still lined up on the steps, and the cowboy posters of her younger brother Daniel (who threw himself under a train four years ago) still on the walls.

Hoping to free her family from the grip of the past, Dada vows to unravel the mystery of Daniel’s final days. This debut by a poet from Croatia’s 'lost generation' explores a beautiful Mediterranean town’s darkest alleys: the bars where secrets can be bought, the rooms where bodies can be sold, the streets and houses where blood is shed. By the end of the long summer, the lies, lust, feuds, and frustration will come to a violent and hallucinatory head."

Note: This book may be listed under the title Adios, Cowboy or Farewell, Cowboy.

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